COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The chronic job insecurity faced by many of today's American manufacturing workers is adversely affecting their health and decreasing their job satisfaction, a recent study suggests.

In a survey of manufacturing workers at a midwestern automobile plant, researchers found that workers who felt their jobs were in jeopardy over an extended period reported the most instances of chest pains, colds, headaches and other physical symptoms. These workers also reported the lowest job satisfaction.

"This indicates that the longer job insecurity lasts, the more negative effects it will have on health," said Catherine A. Heaney, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

"Given this, the future looks somewhat bleak for people in manufacturing fields. Increasing automation, shorter product cycles, factory relocations and continued competition in the marketplace all suggest that job insecurity will remain high for American manufacturing workers," she said.

Industrial workers are particularly at risk for chronic job insecurity, Heaney said.

"In general, these are people who don't have high levels of education and whose skills are specific to one industry. Put that together with the fact that they earn fairly good wages and have fairly good benefits, and the threat of losing their jobs becomes very potent."

Heaney conducted the study with Barbara A. Israel, professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, and James S. House, professor of sociology, also from Michigan. The group's work was published in a recent issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.

For their study, the researchers surveyed 207 automobile manufacturing workers in April 1986 and then again in June 1987. In both surveys, the workers rated their job security and satisfaction. In addition, they reported how often they suffered such physical symptoms as chest pains, frequent colds, arm or leg cramps, hearing difficulty and headaches.

The results:

_ On average, job insecurity increased and job satisfaction decreased during the 14 months between the two surveys.

_ Workers who reported high job insecurity at both points in time were significantly more likely to have physical symptoms and be dissatisfied with their jobs than workers who reported high job insecurity at just one point in time. "Those who experienced the stress of job insecurity for 14 months were much worse off," Heaney said.

_ However, these chronically insecure workers were not any more likely to exhibit depression symptoms than other workers. "This suggests that the physical symptoms being reported are real, that the workers are not using depression or negative emotions to create psychosomatic symptoms," Heaney said.

Taken as a whole, these results have important implications for both manufacturing employers and employees, Heaney said.

"Physical symptoms, if allowed to persist, are likely to result in long-term adverse health consequences," she said. "We need to be thinking about how we can prevent some of these negative effects."

For one, Heaney suggests that manufacturing employers improve communication with their employees.

"Employees may be unnecessarily concerned about job security," she said. "It's very important for employers to keep their employees apprised of what's truly going on."

Heaney also advocates employee retraining programs and job banks for laid-off workers.

"Also, since the stress of job insecurity cannot be removed for many employees, stress management workshops that teach effective coping strategies may be useful," she said.

In addition, Heaney recommends that employees take advantage of the education and training opportunities provided to them.

"There are probably more opportunities available now than ever before," she said. "There are two sides of the coin. Employers sometimes offer things that employees don't take advantage of. There's a responsibility on both sides."

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Contact: Catherine Heaney, (614) 293-3908

Written by Kelly Kershner, (614) 292-8308